While the great Silk Road connected many Asian countries, Uzbekistan is known as a major crossroads of ancient and medieval civilizations; much of the culture of Central Asia is derived from the area which is modern-day Uzbekistan. Its location along the Silk Road made Uzbekistan the target of conquests by the ancient Greeks, Persians, Mongols, and Russians, to name a few. In fact, the country got its name from Khan Uzbeg, a 14th-century leader of the Mongolian Golden Horde. Evidence shows this area has been inhabited for nearly 40,000 years, and while rugged mountains and harsh deserts mark the bulk of Uzbekistan’s geography, it is the most populous and economically powerful country in Central Asia today. In many ways, Uzbekistan is still a thriving trade hub known for its uranium, gold, and cotton production. Most cities and towns have bustling markets including the Chorsu Bazaar, a major trade destination located in Tashkent on the Silk Road.
As different cultures came and went through Uzbekistan, many left their mark on Uzbeki architecture—from the Soviet-era grand public buildings and apartment complexes in the cities to the hundreds of opulent Islamic mosques, madrassahs, and minarets. It’s hard to imagine whole cities, such as Samarkand, were destroyed by Mongol ruler Gengis Kahn. In contrast, Uzbek homes present a reserved, modest exterior.
Uzbeks are a humble people and displays of wealth are only reserved for guests and people of honor. It is in the culture and religious sites, such as the Registan in Samarkand with its spacious courtyard and intricate Islamic patterning, where presidents and emperors alike made their power known.
Most Popular Films
Films featuring Uzbekistan from international, independent filmmakers
Watch as Uzbekistan comes to life in this montage showcasing architecture, people, and culture belonging to this "world of dreams."Produced by Mummy Daddy Media
Women's dance: Bukhara, Uzbekistan
Behold the beauty of a traditional Uzbekistani dance performed by local women in Bukhara.Produced by Ludo Kuipers
Meet Aunt Zoja—a local Uzbekistani who dreams of a peace and understanding throughout the world.
Produced by Paula Sundell
Uzbekistan Interactive Map
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Immerse yourself in Uzbekistan with this selection of articles, recipes, and more
Trace the history of Tamerlane, whose legacy in Uzbekistan teeters between hero and butcher.
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Small Group Adventure
Days in Uzbekistan
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Our Activity Level rating system ranks adventures on a scale of 1 to 5 to help you determine if a trip is right for you. See the descriptions below for more information about the physical requirements associated with each rating.
Activity Level 1:
Travelers should be able to climb 25 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 1-2 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last at least 1-2 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.
Activity Level 2:
Travelers should be able to climb 40 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 2-3 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for at least 2-3 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.
Activity Level 3:
Travelers should be able to climb 60 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 3 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 3 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 5,000 to 7,000 feet.
Activity Level 4:
Travelers should be able to climb 80 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 4 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 7,000 to 9,000 feet.
Activity Level 5:
Travelers should be able to climb 100 or more stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 8 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 10,000 feet or more.
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The hero and terror of Central Asia
by Jenna Thomas
Tamerlane is considered one of history’s most infamous butchers, known for slaughtering millions of people during his reign in Central Asia. On the other hand, he has been a folk hero in Uzbekistan since their independence from the Soviet Union. It is a fittingly complicated legacy for a man whose interests ranged from the conquest of China to collecting art.
His name has a twisted history as well. Tamerlane was actually named Timur. His Persian nickname “Timur I Leng,” or “Timur the Lame” stemmed from his lifelong limp and evolved into “Tamerlane” in Europe. Even the source of his limp is up for discussion. Some say he was shot with an arrow while stealing sheep as a young man, and some say he was injured in battle during his mercenary days.
The early life of a born conqueror
Timur was born in modern-day Uzbekistan in 1336, during a tumultuous time for the region. Timur’s clan, rumored to be descended from the Mongol Genghis Khan dynasty, clashed constantly with local nomadic tribes. Power changed hands often. A young Timur saw opportunity in the chaos. He declared an alliance with powerful Mongols outside the country, who repaid his loyalty by putting him in charge.
Timur immediately betrayed his clansmen by forming an uneasy partnership with a tribal leader, Amir Hussein. Timur married Hussein’s sister Aljai to cement his new loyalty. Timur and Hussein installed themselves as joint rulers, using Timur’s tactical skills and large following to bring neighboring lands under their control.
Becoming a butcher
By 1370, Timur and Hussein governed an area that included modern-day Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, southern Kyrgyzstan and part of Kazakhstan. That year, Aljai died and Timur saw no reason to continue his partnership with Hussein. Timur executed Hussein, consolidated his power by establishing a capital in Samarkand, and set about the task of building an empire.
Within a decade, Timur was the undisputed ruler of Central Asia. He turned his focus outward, leading campaigns to conquer Persia, Iraq and Asia Minor. By this time, his violent strategies were well-known and widely feared. When local populations revolted, he responded by leveling cities, building pyramids with the skulls of the vanquished, and in one case, ordering the murder of 70,000 residents of Isfahan, Persia.
With victories from Moscow to Baghdad, Timur’s taste for conquest was far from sated. He now had an army of 90,000 men, and enough confidence to invade India. Within three months, he had ruined the city of Delhi and executed 100,000 Hindu prisoners before the city gates. Subsequent campaigns in Turkey, Syria, and Egypt were equally ruthless.
Timur returned to Samarkand as he neared his 70s, but soon decided that China’s Ming dynasty was ripe for a takedown. This would prove to be his undoing. Timur was so eager to go that he headed east during an especially harsh winter. Scores of soldiers died and Timur caught a cold that killed him within a month.
The legacy of Tamerlane
According to historians, Timur’s army killed up to 17 million people. The empire covered an area between Russia, India, the Mediterranean Sea and Mongolia, but Timur had left each corner in ruins and never bothered to set up a governing structure. After his death, chaos returned to the region and his empire fell apart.
Centuries later, after the fall of the Soviet Union, newly-independent Uzbekistan needed a folk hero for inspiration. Uzbek leaders turned to Timur, their countryman who had conquered most of Asia and turned Samarkand into the beautiful city that it still is. An officially-sanctioned biography compared him to George Washington. Monuments, museums and streets were dedicated to him. In the 1990s, the government spent millions of dollars restoring Samarkand and the Bibi Khanum mosque, places Timur had intended to be the jewels of Islam.
Even in the West, Timur is remembered. Edgar Allen Poe’s poem “Tamerlane” tells the fictional story of Timur’s deathbed confession to a friar—but it has much more to do with long-lost love than empire-building and bloodthirsty armies.
Today, visitors to Samarkand can see Timur’s elaborate and beautiful mausoleum, itself the scene of some intrigue. In 1941, Soviet archaeologists opened the tomb and read the inscription, “Whoever opens this will be defeated by an enemy more fearsome than I.” In spite of the warning, the Soviets removed Timur’s body for research. Two days later, the Nazi army invaded the Soviet Union unannounced. When the research on Timur’s body was finished, Stalin ordered that it be replaced in his tomb. The Soviet army triumphed over Hitler within a month. Coincidence or not, it was enough to start rumors that Timur was as vengeful in death as he had been in life.